NEW YORK (CNN) — Want to fight fat, wrinkles and chronic disease? Consider slashing the amount of added sugar in your diet.
The empty calories in sugar definitely contribute to weight gain — and the obesity epidemic — which in turn leads to all sorts of chronic diseases, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and more.
Sugar can even make you look older than you are by interrupting the skin's ability to repair itself. The end result is more wrinkles.
Now consider this: The average American eats 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to the American Heart Association. That's a fanatical amount of sweetness — a level only addicts would share.
The recommended level? No more than six teaspoons a day for women and nine for men.
To fight your sugar addiction and begin to reclaim your youth and health, start by becoming a sugar detective.
Detox the pantry
Identify and toss all sugary ingredients in your home, including white and brown sugars, corn syrups, pancake syrups, jams, jellies, honey and molasses.
Add any boxes of ready-to-mix items to the trash as well, such as pancake, brownie, cookie, cake and instant pudding mixes.
Now take a good look at the labels on the rest of the foods in your pantry, and be prepared to be shocked. Sugar is often used by food manufacturers to extend a product's shelf life, so even savory items often contain sugar.
Pasta sauces often contain as much sugar as a cookie. Salad dressings such as French, honey mustard and raspberry vinaigrette can deliver between 5 and 7 grams of sugar in just two tablespoons. Ketchup is worse — it has about 4 grams per tablespoon. Barbecue sauce, hoisin sauce, Teriyaki sauce and even pickle relish all contain sugar.
Healthy bran, oat and corn breakfast cereals (not to mention the kids' versions) are packed with sugar, too.
Look for hidden sugars
Think the pantry is now danger free? Probably not. That's because manufacturers hide sugar by using different names.
Evaporated cane juice, agave, fruit nectar, fruit juice concentrate, brown rice syrup, malt syrup, corn syrup, date syrup, barley malt and anything that ends in an "ose"— think fructose, sucrose, maltose and dextrose — are all added sugars.
One advocacy group counted up to 61 different names for sugar on food labels. How can we possibly fight such marketing? Last year the US Food and Drug Administration announced it is making manufacturers list all "added sugars" on food labels. But don't put your detective hat away yet -- manufacturers have until July 1, 2021, to comply.
Watch what you drink
We all know that one can of soda delivers nearly a day's worth of recommended sugar, but have you looked at your favorite energy drink? Sugar is typically the second main ingredient, and many contain more sugar than a soda.
What about sports beverages, which kids often drink? A 20-ounce Gatorade contains 35 grams of sugar, while some brands of 32-ounce sports drinks have between 56 and 76 grams — four to six times the recommended daily amount for kids and teenagers.
Ready-to-drink iced tea can contain up to 32 grams of sugar per bottle. Even fruit-flavored waters typically contain added sugars.
It may seem smart to just switch to a diet soda or other artificially sweetened beverage. But there's a catch: Artificial sweeteners can be 150 times sweeter than sugar.
Why does that matter? Because you're trying to train your brain to detox from an addiction to sugar's delicious sweetness. So why would you feed it something that's going to make it crave even higher levels of sweetness?
Inspect those 'health' foods
Many foods marketed as "health" foods are also full of sugar. Instant oatmeal is healthy, but when it's flavored it can have up to 15 grams of sugar per packet. Even the reduced sugar varieties can have 6 grams. Make your own and add fruit.
Look at the ingredients on that "healthy" granola bar and you'll probably find corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, brown sugar syrup, dextrose or fructose. If they've added yogurt or chocolate? Even more sugar.
Speaking of yogurt, even the low-fat flavored versions can have 30 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving — it's what they do to make up for the lack of fat. That's as much sugar as two scoops of ice cream.
So, detective, you now know what to look for to begin restricting the amount of sugar in the foods you eat. What are you going to replace those foods with?
Whole foods like fruit, vegetables and whole grains. They too contain sugar — an apple can have around 20 grams of sugar, a banana 14 grams and a sweet potato 7 grams.
But the fiber in that apple, banana and sweet potato can satisfy your hunger and make your body absorb the sugar from the fruit more slowly. Fruits and vegetables also support your health with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients instead of empty, non-nourishing calories.
There are other substitutions you can make to reduce sugar, too. Instead of sugar-laden store-bought salad dressings, use olive oil, red wine vinegar, Italian spices and garlic to make an easy vinaigrette.
Substitute dates, unsweetened applesauce or ripe bananas for sugar in your cakes, cookies, muffins and banana bread.
Fresh fruit and purees like apricot can cut the tartness of unsweetened yogurt. Fresh or dried herbs can add flavor to vegetables and meats. Balsamic vinegar can glaze Brussels sprouts and asparagus. Roasting veggies brings out their natural sweetness.
After a while, you'll find your addiction to sugar has faded and the natural sweetness of fruit may become all you need for dessert.
And just look at your skin!
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